Evan Thomas and Eve Conant
April 13, 2010
Editor’s note: Defending the Constitution is characterized as a “surge of hate.”
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Stewart Rhodes does not seem like an extremist. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former U.S. Army paratrooper and congressional staffer. He is not at all secretive. In February he was sitting at a table at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at a fancy downtown hotel in Washington, handing out fliers and selling T shirts for his organization, the Oath Keepers. Rhodes says he has 6,000 dues-paying members, active and retired police and military, who promise never to take orders to disarm U.S. citizens or herd them into concentration camps. Rhodes told a NEWSWEEK reporter, “We’re not a militia.” Oath Keepers do not run around the woods on the weekend shooting weapons or threatening the violent overthrow of the government. Their oath is to uphold the Constitution and defend the American people from dictatorship.
But by conjuring up the specter of revolution—or counterrevolution—is Rhodes adding to the threat of real violence? Oath Keepers are “a particularly worrisome example of the ‘patriot’ revival,” according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate speech and extremist organizations. “Patriot” groups—described by the SPLC as outfits “that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose ‘one-world government’ on liberty-loving Americans”—are “roaring back” after years out of the limelight, according to Potok. Notorious in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the patriot groups seemed to fade away under the shadow of 9/11, but hard times and the nation’s first African-American president seem to have brought about a revival—from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 (127 of them militias) in 2009, according to the SPLC.